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A proactive approach to mental health allows health plans to reduce costs, improve outcomes, attract and retain members, and reinforce their commitment to whole person care.  

For many health plans, however, their members underutilize mental health benefits. They need better strategies to promote and facilitate access to these important services, and overcome challenges like stigma, lack of promotion, provider availability, out of pocket costs, lack of perceived need, and administrative complexities.  

Progressive employers have long understood the importance of good mental health, and have adopted creative strategies to alleviate common barriers to utilization. Health plan providers can take advantage of lessons learned by these employee mental health pioneers and implement several important tactics that increase utilization and improve member outcomes: 

  1. Reduce barriers. Employers make access easy through onsite counseling, telehealth options, self-paced digital programs, and free/low-cost mental health coverage. Health plans should minimize barriers like high copays or limited provider networks and make mental health care as easy to access and affordable as possible.  
  2. Build awareness. Companies vigorously promote their mental health benefits through monthly awareness campaigns and events. They engage employees with activities and materials that encourage them to utilize the benefits. These activities increases engagement and more importantly, reduce stigma that so often is associated with mental health. 
  3. Show ROI. Employers track productivity, retention, and health care costs to gain buy in from their leadership by clearly demonstrating the value of good mental health. Health plans can also articulate the value of managing mental health by reducing overall health care claims and increasing member satisfaction and retention, which simplifies justification of the investment. 
  4. Leverage technology. Many employers offer apps and online tools for self-guided mental health support. Providing self-guided, online access to care enables more people to engage in mental health care without requiring added resources. Health plans that embrace technology will be able to scale access and reach many more members, thereby having a greater impact on outcomes. 
  5. Use incentives. Some companies offer gift cards or lower premiums for using mental health services. This is a great tactic to reach the “silent sufferers” who may not otherwise seek care. Plans could similarly incentivize engagement. 
  6. Offer flexibility. Each person is unique with their own preferences. Employers often offer several different ways to access mental health care including traditional therapy, teletherapy, digital self-guided programs, webinars, newsletters and articles, and mindfulness text message subscriptions. 
  7. Partner. Employers collaborate with health plans to coordinate expanded services. Health plans can also proactively engage employers on mental health initiatives to increase utilization. 
  8. Measure. Companies track mental health utilization and engagement over time. This enables them to understand how their benefits are being used, identify areas for improvement, and initiate awareness campaigns as needed. Plans that monitor use can also better understand demand and make sure they are meeting member needs. 

The best health plans will look to leading employers who make mental health care convenient, accessible, normalized, and incentivized. These organizations are able inspire at least 20% of their employees to utilize mental health services, and some achieve up to 40%+ utilization annually. A comprehensive approach should include: 

  • A variety of options to access care without long wait times.  
  • Digital options for therapy that can be accessed from home.  
  • Regular communications and campaigns that promote mental wellness information and resources to destigmatize care.  
  • Rewards or gift cards to members who complete mental health screenings annually. 
  • Integrated behavioral health benefits so mental health is treated the same as physical health.

As the mental health crisis continues to grow, the far-reaching impacts of poor mental health have become clear. Many employers have already recognized that supporting employees’ mental health is beneficial for both the individual and the company’s success. Now is the time for health plans to follow suit with an equally strong focus on mental healthcare.   

The need for access to mental health services keeps rising, yet care is still not prioritized on par with physical health. Health plans have a prime opportunity to be proactive in addressing this disparity. By promoting mental well-being through their policies and programs, they can empower members to thrive while also improving outcomes and reducing overall healthcare costs.  

Making mental health care a central focus alongside physical care will create a health care system that nurtures the whole person. Health plans have a responsibility to be leaders in this movement. The mental health crisis demands action, and health plans are poised to drive the change that is sorely needed.